Psalm 93, 96 (Morning)
Psalm 34 (Evening)
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Here’s a sordid confession: The parts of the epistles where Paul is talking about sex make my head hurt–but not for the reasons one might think. It’s because most of the time, he’s talking about something much deeper and more global, but has used some sort of state of sexual relations as the example. However, true to form, the impulse over the last 2000 years has to continue to make it “only about sex.”
Yet, here I am writing about this epistle as opposed to the choice plum in our readings today (and a personal favorite,) the Gospel story of Jesus and the Gerasene demoniac. Why? Because, let’s face it, sex gets our attention.
The church in Corinth had a local problem–one of the big draws to Corinth was the Temple of Aphrodite, and in particular, their temple prostitutes. It would not be much of a stretch of the imagination to recognize there were probably members of the church in Corinth who were out at the temple of Aphrodite on Saturday night, and in the front row of church on Sunday morning. The big problem was not so much the act of having sex with a temple prostitute–it was a perfectly lawful act in Corinth, and frankly, probably not a big deal–but the infidelity and the apostacy of those who wanted to play it both ways.
So for starters, prostitutes make a great image for talking about intimacies within the Corinthians themselves and within their community. This chapter and the messy one following it–about marriage and divorce–speak to something bigger than just having sex, being married, and ending marriages. It’s about faithfulness to one’s intimate self and those whom with intimacies are shared.
I suspect there’s so much attention even in modern day Christianity to pick and choose out of texts like this and make them mostly about sexual behavior because each of us, all too well, knows our own failings in that department, and each of us has our own personal “ooo, that’s icky,” list when it comes to various expressions of sex. So, we often, I think, hear Paul’s admonishments and instructions in a way separate from the intent of the Epistles. We might hear it as a put-down to ourselves, given our own past histories. We might hear it as a “my way or the highway” proclamation to salvation, and bristle. We might hear it as justification for our own personal “sexual icky list.”
It’s important to remember what the Epistles really are–a letter to a particular arm of the early church at that particular time–and recognize that to even begin to understand the deeper message for us, that it requires a little understanding of the history and culture of that city at that time. We can never know all of it in that context–time has a way of obscuring it–and look for the context in which the example is used.
We still use “prostitute” as a figure of speech to describe the giving up the holy within ourselves to that which, on the surface might appear to be a good deal, but ultimately is not. When we think of the problem of some member of the church in Corinth sneaking off for a good time at the temple of Aphrodite, really, who’s the prostitute? The one working there, or the one visiting? So ultimately, when we ponder this reading, the question becomes one of the giving away of our own intimacies, sexual or not, to things that make us less than our full self as God intended us to be.
It also becomes one of community. Too much dishonesty to self among individuals leads to dishonesty in community. The church that never has an argument, never does a single thing that offends anyone, never even puts a minor challenge to its members through liturgy or outreach, is probably not living up to all it could be, either.
When are the times we have discovered, that, in fact, we “prostituted ourselves” when we were too busy pointing out someone or something else as the prostitute?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid